Geraniums can last out the winter with a little thoughtful recycling

You've enjoyed your colorful, sprightly geraniums out of doors all summer long. Now that cold weather nears in many parts of the US, should you just give up and let them freeze?

Or do you want to try recycling them, to be enjoyed another year? And perhaps the year following that, too?

Years ago some wise old-timers saved their geranium plants over winter, crowding them into a cold, seldom-used parlor. But today few of us have cool, seldom-used parlors.

Others took up the plants, shook the soil off the roots, and hung them in a cold cellar to rest. How many of us have such a cellar today, however? Others simply dug up the plants, plopped them into a tub of some kind, and set them in a basement corner. Moisture was withheld until spring.

When all danger of frost was past, the plants were pruned and set into the garden again. The results were always chancy.

In this era of warmer homes I recycle my geraniums this way, getting excellent results in the past four years:

The plants I bought originally, plus those I've grown from seed, stay in their individual pots. The pots can be either clay or plastic. The plants have all summer created a showy border along the front of the house, along with bright ornamental peppers.

There, because of the aggressive roots of a towering maple, the pots keep the plants protected. Pots must be sunk below the soil's surface or the plants dry out. All the geraniums have been fed twice during the growing season and watered regularly.

In our area frost comes early. We all go through a period of protecting our plants at night with coverings of old blankets, canvas, and even heavy plastic. But at last we give up.

This is when I lift the plants -- a very simple procedure -- wipe the pots well, snip away any leggy growth, and then bring them inside. The plants are placed in a darkened, cool corner downstairs and left, unwatered, all winter.

Six to eight weeks before next year's setting-out time I bring the pots into the light and prune them some more. I am learning to be more ruthless about the pruning. Then I work in some balanced fertilizer, water regularly, and wait.

Soon glossy new leaves begin to form. Some additional pruning to balance the plant may be advisable now. A few of the plants may need larger pots. And one or two may need to be discarded. The law of averages says that all of the plants aren't always going to make it. No matter, you've little financial investment in them, anyway.

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